On Galentine’s Day and Leslie Knope

proFidol takes a look at positive representations of women in popular culture, particularly those that reflect and inspire women in academia.

When attempting to decide on a meaningful launch date for proFmagazine, we realized quickly that it was a no-brainer: it had to be February 13th, otherwise known as “Galentine’s Day,” the holiday of “ladies celebrating ladies.” For those uninitiated, Galentine’s Day is a fake-holiday-turned-real, one introduced in 2010 on the sitcom Parks and Recreation (which aired its final season in 2015, but lives on through Netflix and countless gifs and memes). I’m so dedicated to Galentine’s Day that last year I wrote this essay for HelloGiggles explaining just why it means so much to me.

It seems fitting, on this Galentine’s Day 2017, that I launch my “proF Idol” column with an ode to the fictional woman who created the holiday, Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler), Deputy Director of the Pawnee, Indiana Parks Department. After all, Leslie Knope stands for many of the same things that proFmagazine aims to celebrate. First of all, whether we’re students, faculty, staff or scholars-at-large, our work means a lot to us. No matter what corner of academia you call your own, odds are that you take your work home with you – that term paper, that dissertation, that stack of paperwork, that student in need who keeps emailing after hours. We take on this work because we care: about the work itself, and about the people with whom, and for whom, we do it.

On Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope’s foremost trait was her obsession with work. She created binders for nearly every task. She got breathlessly excited about the prospect of one hundred meetings in one day. She did the work of at least three people and still found the time to write an entire book about her town. But furiously following Leslie Knope’s workaholic example is also an inside track to burnout, a risk women in academia run all too often. And this is where one of my favorite Leslie Knope mantras (one I used to have hanging in my office in academic advising) comes into play: “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, and work. Or waffles, friends, work…it doesn’t matter. But work is third.”

The typical image of a workaholic is someone who stays late at the office, burning through paperwork and missing out on happy hours, social events, and time with family. But Leslie Knope represented a new kind of workaholic: one who works just as hard at building friendships and maintaining those friendships as she does at her job (and one who always prioritizes breakfast). She lifted up and challenged the women around her (like her best friend Anne, intern April, and coworker Donna) to embrace their careers and their passions, and she strove to highlight their talent and competency.

And while Leslie Knope was far from perfect – she could be selfish, unwilling to listen, high-strung and impulsive – her friends and colleagues were there to return the favor, challenging her to own her mistakes and to learn from them. Many episodes of Parks and Recreation centered on this understanding (so important in government, ahem Donald Trump) that humility and empathy are qualities we can’t teach ourselves. Instead, we develop them by maintaining close relationships and forging new ones, particularly with people who see the world differently. And they’re qualities that government workers and students/educators alike would be nothing without.

And so on this Galentine’s Day, we’d like to introduce you to proFmagazine, which we hope can be a supportive resource for women who love their work, much like Leslie Knope. It’s also for women who seek to bring balance to their lives the way she did – by cultivating supportive, challenging, inspiring relationships with other women, and by taking the time out, every now and then, to celebrate those relationships. Happy Galentine’s Day, and here’s to many more.

Do you and your friends or colleagues celebrate Galentine’s Day? Share your traditions with us!

Photo credits: NBC/Universal

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